Matthew Keys Sentencing: Journalist Sentenced Two Years For Hacking L.A. Times Website

Matthew Keys’ sentencing took place on Wednesday. The 29-year-old former Reuters social media editor from Vacaville, California, was sentenced to two years in prison for aiding in the 2010 hacking of a newspaper website owned by the Tribune Company. Members of the hacking group Anonymous changed a story on the Los Angeles Times website after Matthew Keys provided login credentials.

The Anonymous hacktivist group, established in 2003, calls themselves an “internet gathering” and is credited for hacking into government, corporate, and religious websites as a way to protest several issues, including privacy, pornography, Scientology, and copyright infringement. Matthew Keys made contact in an online chatroom with a member of Anonymous, known only as username “Sharpie,” who was 35-years-old at the time and lived in Scotland, in early December, 2010.

According to WIRED on Wednesday, Keys had just left a job with KTXL-TV channel 40, a Fox-affiliated TV station out of Sacramento, California, and intended to help Anonymous hack into that Tribune Media-owned website only. Keys obtained login information for the KTXL Fox 40 website when he worked at the Sacramento TV station as their first online news producer. Keys left KTXL-TV two months before the Los Angeles Times hacking incident.

Transcripts obtained by the FBI after a year-long investigation into the Los Angeles Times hacking case show Keys chatting with the Anonymous member on December 8, 2010, as username “AESCracked.” In 2015, Motherboard shared a portion of one transcript that clearly shows Keys had given the Anonymous member the username and password to three content management systems owned by the Tribune Company. Matthew Keys went on to tell “Sharpie” to use those credentials to “go f**k some sh*t up.”

Keys allegedly only wanted the Fox 40 website hacked. However, Anonymous used the login credentials to also hack into the Los Angeles Times website, since both sites are owned by the same media company, Tribune. Within a total of 40 minutes, the Anonymous hacker had gained access to the Los Angeles Times online edition and changed a headline on one article about a House tax bill, a defacement that took only three minutes to correct.

No actual monetary damage had been done, but the FBI still managed to indict Matthew Keys in 2013 and charge him with a felony for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The Tribune Company had to somehow provide evidence of at least $5,000 in damages for the FBI to prosecute the case. Keys’ former boss at Fox 40, Brandon Mercer, claims the company lost nearly a million dollars, mainly in lost hours of productivity following the Los Angeles Times hack. That amount had dropped to only $13,000 in damages at trial.

“By the way, if you bill $1,000 an hour, that would help us get this prosecuted,” Mercer emailed to a Tribune lawyer.

Matthew Keys had been facing up to 25 years in prison for the three counts of hacking he was found guilty of in 2015. But Keys still plans to appeal the mere 24-month sentence and reverse his conviction, saying he’s innocent and still committed to journalism. Keys went on to say that he hopes to reform the use of the CFAA against hacking convictions.

“When we do appeal, we’re not only going to work to reverse the conviction, but try to change this absurd computer law, as best we can,” wrote Matthew Keys on his Twitter following his sentencing on Wednesday.

Brandon Mercer hired Keys to work at Fox 40 News, saying the budding Twitter celebrity was intelligent and innovative, but Keys often got in trouble for criticizing the station on his own personal Twitter account. Matthew Keys was working for Reuters as their social media editor when he was charged with hacking in 2013. Keys was later fired from that position.

Matthew Keys says he only had inside access to the Anonymous member in 2010 because he had embedded himself within the hacking group while he was working on a data breach story.

Following Matthew Keys’ sentencing, he will be supervised until he surrenders on June 15 to start serving his sentence.

[Image via Matthew Keys/Facebook]

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